By Taylor Nettis: A new exhibition by artist Kristin Leachman at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia focuses on close-up views of the patterns and biology of the longleaf pine and its ecosystem. Leachman, who lives in California, traveled across the country to view deforested and reforested longleaf sites in southwest Georgia as part of her “50 Forests” project. Her resulting work, a series of painted biomorphic abstractions of pine bark, examines longleaf’s complex history and human attempts to revive its population. “Kristin Leachman: Longleaf Lines” will be on display at the museum July 23, 2022, through February 5, 2023.
Once a vast swath of the southeastern United States spanning 90 million acres, the longleaf ecosystem’s footprint declined to a mere 3 million acres in the 18th and 19th centuries due to rapid industrialization and the rise of the railroad. The lands would have disappeared entirely if not for the booming popularity of quail hunting in the 19th century and the need to preserve the lush longleaf understories where quail thrive.
“The essence of these old-growth trees, their interconnectivity to the landscape and its history, is what I wanted to evoke in my paintings,” Leachman said. “I was moved by the connections between the trees, the gopher tortoise, the birds, the butterflies, and the parallel historical realities of turpentine, colonialism, capitalism, the Civil War, railroad ties, ship masts, naval stores and quail.”
Much of the old-growth longleaf pine population is currently on private land across south Georgia, limiting people’s access to these majestic and hidden spaces. Leachman’s paintings provide an immersive experience that plays with scale and form, generating a sense of intimacy with this often hidden ecosystem and its species.
“Kristin Leachman articulates the relationships between painting and nature, from the biological phenomena that she traces in her abstract surfaces to the artistic materials that she employs,” curator of American art Jeffrey Richmond-Moll said. “In fact, Kristin is pioneering the use of reclaimed earth pigments, produced from minerals like iron oxide pulled from US riverways historically polluted by mining. In this way, her paintings visually depict and materially support efforts in environmental conservation.”
The bark of the longleaf pine is scaly, thick and made up of red and brown hues. Karen Leachman forest paintings capture the patterns and shades of that bark while representing the human impact of reforestation, including prescribed burns, a forestry practice that stretches back thousands of years. She highlights the tension between humanity’s ability to coexist with the environment and the extraction of natural resources.